Thursday, August 31, 2006

Week 1 Preview

Saturday will have a bevy of great games to choose from, which is something unusual for the first weekend of the year, and it doesn't even end on Saturday. On Sunday, look for my preview of Miami-Florida St in what could be a preview of the ACC Championship.

#2Notre Dame @ Georgia Tech 8:00 ET ABC
Line: ND-7 O/U: 50

When Notre Dame has the ball: Georgia Tech has faired much better against pocket passers than scramblers because of their kitchen sink style of blitzing. Expect Notre to try and spread the ball around early in the game and get the ball out of Brady Quinn's hands quickly. If Georgia Tech cannot get pressure on Quinn then I think you will see Weis try downfield for big plays. Jon Tenuta's defense has to get to Brady Quinn for Tech to negate Heisman front-runner Quinn and their high powered offense. Advantage: Notre Dame

When Georgia Tech has the ball: Much has been made about the Irish inability to stop the pass last year. However, the Yellow Jackets will need to get the rushing game going as this is their bread and butter and will then open up the passing game. I expect ND to use a similar scheme to what Georgia used last year on Calvin Johnson - double team him about 75% of the plays. Reggie Ball must be able to recognize those pass plays where Johnson is in single coverage and get him the ball. I think Ball needs to throw at least 2 TD for Tech to have a chance. Advantage: Even

Special Teams: Tech has had trouble on kick and punt coverage the last few years, but with a new special teams coach they should improve. Junior Travis Bell will need to regain his freshman form and become a weapon again for the Jackets. Notre Dame is solid, but not spectacular in special teams with Tom Zibikowski returning punts.
Advantage: Even

Coaching: Charlie Weis proved last year he is one the great offensive minds in football - college or pro. Chan Gailey has been solid in his four years, but has now handed the play calling duties over to Patrick Nix who installed a new, spread offense in the spring. Advantage: Notre Dame

Intangibles: Notre Dame is back and college football loves it. They are #2 preseason and have the leading Heisman candidate. Some say they are deserving of their ranking, some say they are not. Georgia Tech has played well as the underdog role and this is their biggest game since the 1990 Citrus Bowl, where they won the national title. Advantage: Georgia Tech

Vegas Considerations:
Notre Dame under Weis (2nd year)
7-5 ATS, 1-1 Away Fav, 8-5 Away Fav (last 7 years)
Georgia Tech under Gailey (5th year)
23-24-2 ATS, 3-5-1 Home Dog, 8-8-1 vs Non Conf, 4-5-1 Home Dog (last 7 years)

Notre Dame 27 Georgia Tech 21 (Notre Dame wins, but GT Covers)
Western Kentucky @ #15 Georgia 12:30 ET ESPN Game Plan
Line: n/a O/U: n/a

When Western Kentucky has the ball: The Western Kentucky QB will likely be running for his life and have nightmares of Quentin Moses on Saturday night. But seriously, the Hilltoppers were able to put up 14 versus Auburn last year, so I doubt they will be shut out. Advantage: Georgia

When Georgia has the ball: I am sure Mark Richt is anxious to get Joe Tereshinski some reps against a team not named Florida to boost his confidence. Two QB's will definetly play on Saturday, but whether we see freshman phenom Matt Stafford is another story. Oh yea, Georgia should be able to run all over W. Kentucky. Advantage: Georgia

Special Teams: Georgia's special teams match up with most anybody in the country. Advantage: Georgia

Coaching: Mark Richt was an assistant under Bobby Bowden and has taken the Bulldogs to four consecutive 10 win seasons. Advantage: Georgia

Intangibles: Western Kentucky is not getting any respect coming into this game, not even from Vegas who would not even put out a line for this matchup. Still, 90,000 fans barking and chomping at the bit will be tough to overcome. Advantage: Georgia

Georgia 34 W. Kentucky 7

Florida Atlantic @ #18 Clemson
Line: -32 O/U: 45

When FAU has the ball: see above, except insert Gaines Adams for Quentin Moses. Advantage: Clemson

When Clemson has the ball: Tommy Bowden will want to play it conservative and not reveal of his game plan for the following week. Advantage: Clemson

Special Teams: uhhhh, even if Florida Atlantic did have good special teams would it matter? Advantage: Clemson

Coaching: The Fire Tommy Bowden or Tommy Bowden is the greatest websites have not started sounding off yet, but it is only game 1. Florida Atlantic has a coach by the name of Howard Schnellenberger. You may remember him as the coach who helped build the Miami program. Advantage: Even

Intangibles: Even if FAU did have all the intangibles it can't make up the talent disparity in this game. Advantage: Clemson

Vegas Considerations:
FAU under Schnellenberger (6th year)
6-12 ATS, 6-5 Away Dog, 4-7 vs Non Conf
Clemson under Bowden (8th year)
39-38-2 ATS, 12-15-1 Home Fav, 12-11 vs Non Conf

Clemson 41 Florida Atlantic 6 (Clemson wins and covers)

Southern Miss @ #7 Florida
Line: -20 O/U: 47.5

When Southern Miss has the ball: So Miss has talent at running back and receiver, but they will be breaking in a new QB in The Swamp. I expect the Golden Eagles to rely heavily on the run game. Too bad Florida's front seven is one the best in the SEC. Advantage: Florida

When Florida has the ball: With the lack of a proven tailback and two outstanding receivers, expect Florida to pass the ball a lot. The So. Miss defense is not as stifling as it once was under Tyrone Nix(South Carolina). Advantage: Florida

Special Teams: So Miss kicker Daren McCaleb is the active leader in FG pct. Both kickers return for the Gators. Advantage: Even

Coaching: Jeff Bower just doesn't get much recognition for the work he has done in Hattiesburg, but he has lost some key assistants to bigger programs in recent years. Urban Meyer's teams usually take off in year two as witnessed at Bowling Green and Utah. Advantage: Florida

Intangibles: The SEC is not stranger to So. Miss who beat Alabama a few years ago and I don't expect them to be intimidated by going on the road to Florida. This is just warmup game 1 of 2 before Knoxville on Sept 16 for Florida. Advantage: So Miss

Vegas Considerations:
Florida under Meyer(2nd year)
6-6 ATS, 4-3 Home Fav, 3-1 vs Non Conf, 20-21-1 Home Fav(last 7 years)
So. Miss under Bower(16th year)
37-41-1 ATS, 29-26-1 Road Dog, 31-30-2 vs Non Conf

Florida 31 So Miss 13 (Florida wins, So Miss covers)

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Let's Kick It Off With Some Fun n Gun

College Football will kickoff in less than 24 hours. It has been a long wait for this season, which is one of the most anticipated in a long time due to the fact that there are no clear-cut favorites for anything-national titles or even conference titles.

South Carolina @ Miss St. 8:00ET ESPN
Line: SC -6.5 O/U:40.5

For the second year in a row, South Carolina will apart of the first game of the season. Steve Spurrier's second go-around in Columbia has the Gamecock faithful even more excited than last year it seems. Let's take a look at what to expect in their game @ Mississippi St.

When South Carolina has the ball:
Fans want Spurrier to go for the home run on the first play of the game (and every play thereafter), but Spurrier is actually a very patient, disciplined playcaller. QB Blake Mitchell will likely be given the green light much more this season because of his familiarity with the offensive system. The Gamecocks will likely use the run and pass equally because three of the top four rushers and receivers return from last season. Mississipppi St returns nine starters on defense, including nine of the top 12 tacklers from a year ago. However, with South Carolina's speed advantage at the skill positions expect them to be able to put up some points versus the Bulldogs. Advantage: South Carolina

When Miss St has the ball:
Even though eight starters return from a year ago, the main weapon by far last season (Jerious Norwood) is gone. I look for the Bulldogs to pass the ball against a South Carolina secondary who lost their two best players from last season early. Miss St may have some success running the ball behind three returning o-line starters, but I expect the South Carolina run defense to improve upon their 85th ranking of a year ago. Advantage: South Carolina

Special Teams:
Neither team has much of an advantage in this category. The Gamecocks lost both kickers from last season. Advantage: Even

Spurrier showed last season he can still coach at a very high level in the SEC with wins over Florida and Tennesse with close losses to Georgia. Croom is now in his third year in the SEC, but is still looking for a break out year. Advantage: South Carolina

Starkville has not been very kind to Spurrier over the years and you can be sure the Bulldog faithful will be fired up. Advantage: Miss St

Points of Note:
Miss St under Croom (3rd year):
9-11 ATS, 4-4 Home Dog, 7-9 vs SEC,8-12 Home Dog (last 7 years)

South Carolina under Spurrier (2nd year):
6-5-1 ATS, 0-0 Away Fav, 5-2-1 vs SEC,4-4 Away Fav (last 7 years)

Prediction: South Carolina 24 Miss St 14

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

How it will look at the end

ACC Championship: Miami over FSU

SEC Championship: Auburn over Florida

Jackets and Dawgs Preview

The last of the season previews ends with Georgia and Georgia Tech. Both of these schools have been to bowl games each of the last 9 years; something schools like USC, Ohio St, and Oklahoma can't say. Both teams want to take the next step but those steps are different; for Georgia one would have to think with 2 SEC Titles already that Mark Richt is hoping Georgia can compete for the national title in the near future. Meantime in Atlanta, Chan Gailey wants the Yellow Jackets to be competing for the conference title in the ACC every year. The records of these teams will not matter though when they meet on Saturday after Thanksgiving in Athens.

Georgia Tech (7-5, 5-3)
Offensive Starters Returning: 8
Defensive Starters Returning: 6
Last 5 Years Win Totals: 8-7-7-7-7

The key questions on Tech's offense will be whether or not Reggie Ball has matured into a consistent playmaker at QB. In his first three seasons as starter, Ball has thrown 30 TD in 20 wins, but just 7 TD in 16 losses - as Ball goes, Tech goes. The loss of PJ Daniels will be softened by that of Tashard Choice (513 yards, 6TD). All-American Calvin Johnson is also back and is eager to show his expanded role in the Yellow Jackets new spread offense. Johnson caught just 54 balls last season, but has showed his abilities for acrobatic plays time and time again. The offensive line returns four starters and a converted DT (Mansfield Wrotto) who will start at RT. Overall, this offense has the ability to put up some serious points-but as Ball goes, Tech goes.
Rushing Offense: 153.7 ypg
Passing Offense: 195.2 ypg
Total Offense: 349.0 ypg
Scoring Offense: 18.5 ppg

Defensively, the biggest returnee may be that of coordinator Jon Tenuta. While Tenuta cannot get on the field, he can instruct his 6 returning starters to blitz, and blitz, and blitz some more. Anchoring the line will be senior Joe Anoai. The linebacking corp returns two starters and a key backup from last season. OLB KaMichael Hall and MLB Phillip Wheeler will give QB's nightmares with their side to side speed. The secondary is the question mark of this defense only returning one starter. Tech fans better hope the front seven can pressure the QB because the experience is not in the secondary to let a QB have time in the pocket.
Rushing Defense: 103.9 ypg
Passing Defense: 213.6 ypg
Total Defense: 317.5 ypg
Scoring Defense: 20.1 ppg

Special teams was a sore foot for the Yellow Jackets last year. Travis Bell hopes to put a sophomore slump behind him and Durant Brooks is the likely punter replacing Ben Arndt.
Net Punting: 36.0 ypp
Punt Returns: 5.7 ypr
Kick Returns: 20.2. ypr
Sep2Notre DameL
Sep30@Virginia TechL
Nov4@NC StateW
Nov11@North CarolinaW
Prediction: 8-4, 5-3

Georgia (10-3, 6-2)
Offensive Starters Returning: 7
Defensive Starters Returning: 6
Last 5 Years Win Totals: 8-13-11-10-10

Georgia has now arrived as one of the elite programs in the nation with four consecutive 10 win seasons under Mark Richt. However, those wins will come a little tougher this year because the Bulldogs do not have a proven QB to start the season. After a heated spring and fall practice, Richt has decided to start with senior Joe Tereshinski who played last season for the injured DJ Schockley in the Florida (L) and Kentucky(W) games. A name to keep an eye on though is true freshman Matt Stafford; don't be surprised to see him starting by the end of the year. The Dawgs have a trio of tailbacks that would be the envy of any coach in the SEC - Thomas Brown (736 yards, 4 TD) is the headliner of the group. Mo Massaquoi (13.3 ypc) returns for his sophmore season and will be the first look for whomever the QB is. The o-line will have some new faces and will be especially tested early in the season with the suspenstion to returning starter Daniel Inman.
Rushing Offense: 162. 1 ypg
Passing Offense: 229.0 ypg
Total Offense: 391.1. ypg
Scoring Offense: 29.5 ppg

The departure of Brian VanGorder left many to think the Georgia 'D' would take a step back last season, but under Willie Martinez the Bulldogs ranked 18th in the nation in overall defense. Without question, the main man is DE Quentin Moses who will push for All-American honors. Last season, 73% of Moses tackles were behind the line of scrimmage. The linebacking unit is one similar to M.A.S.H with most every key player having suffered a major injury in their career. Tony Taylor (56 tackles) will lead a group hoping to remain healthy for a full season. The secondary returns just one starter from a year ago in Tra Battle at FS. Cornerbacks Paul Oliver and Thomas Flowers (after suspension) are likely to join Battle.
Rushing Defense: 143.8 ypg
Passing Defense: 169.6 ypg
Total Defense: 313.5 ypg
Scoring Defense: 16.4 ppg

Both kickers are back and will be weapons for UGA in the battle for field position. Flowers will returns punts, but the kick return position will be by committee early on.
Net punting: 38.7 ypp
Punt Returns: 13.8 ypr
Kick Returns: 19.5 ypr
Sep2 W.Kentucky W
Sep9 @South Carolina L
Sep16 UAB W
Sep23 Colorado W
Sep30 @Ole Miss W
Oct7 Tennessee W
Oct14 Vanderbilt W
Oct21 Miss St W
Oct28 Florida(Jax) L
Nov4 @Kentucky W
Nov11 @Auburn W
Nov25 Georgia Tech L
Prediction: 9-3, 6-2

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Sunshine State - A Return to Dominance?

Florida State (8-5, 5-3)
Offensive Starters Returning: 5
Defensive Starters Returning: 4
Last 5 Years Win Totals: 8-9-10-9-8

Since 2001, the Seminoles have averaged just 8.8 wins and only seen one 10 win season. Many of FSU's troubles could be pointed back to the offense with the QB play and lack of running game. Bobby Bowden should be able to look at the QB position this fall with confidence as FSU has Drew Weatherford back with a season under his belt. Weatherford threw for over 3,000 yards last season en route to being named a Freshman All-American by several news sources. When Weatherford is not throwing the ball, he will be handing it off to the speedy Lorenzo Booker. Booker was highly recruited out of California, but has had a somewhat disappointing career thus far. He could be pushed for time by sophomore Antone Smith who had the highest yards per carry on the team last year. At wideout, Greg Carr and his 6'6" frame are back hoping to out leap even more DB's this season. Chris Davis and De'Cody Fagg will bring quality depth to the receiving corp. However, the situation is different along the offensive line, which was riddled by injuries last season. Just seven scholarship lineman return, but Bowden thinks he has five quality starters if the unit can stay healthy and out of trouble.

One area that should not be of concern is the defensive line despite the loss of some key players to the NFL. It seems FSU can just plug in the previous years backups and have two first round draft picks and this year should be no different. The coaching staff believes this years crop of linebackers may be better than last seasons. Buster Davis returns and will be joined by sophomores Geno Hayes, Rodney Gallon, and Derek Nicholson (brother of departed AJ Nicholson). The secondary lost three starters from last year and may be a weak point early in the season. True Freshman Myron Rolle, who participated in spring practice, could be the starter at SS in Miami on Sep 4. Junior Roger Williams started three games last season and is penciled in at FS as of now. The lone returning starter is CB Tony Carter who led the team with 12 pass breakups a year ago. On the other side, J.R. Bryant hopes to hold onto his starting position he gained in the seventh game of last season.

Gary Cismesia returns as the kicker while the punter will be a new face this season; Graham Cano leads for the postion in the preseason. Kick returning duties will be up for grabs after Kenny O'Neal was dismissed.
Oct5@NC StateW
Oct21Boston CollegeW
Nov11Wake ForestW
Nov18W. MichiganW
Prediction: 11-1, 8-0

Florida (9-3, 5-3)
Offensive Starters Returning: 6
Defensive Starters Returning: 6
Last 5 Years Win Totals: 10-8-8-7-9

Year two of Urban Meyer at Florida brings expectations of an SEC Title, something has not seen since the Spurrier era. The Gators definetly have the talent, but a brutal schedule could derail their train en route to Atlanta. Chris Leak returns at QB, but talk is occuring of a true freshman Tim Tebow replacing him by mid year. Leak is not the optimal fit in an Urban Meyer offense, but he proved adequate enough for the Gators to beat their three biggest rivals last season. The area of biggest concern is at running back where Florida struggled mightily last year. Meyer hopes the triumvirate of DeShawn Wynn, Markus Manson, and Kestahn Moore can improve on the 3.9 yards per carry last season. Andre Caldwell is back at WR after a season ending injury vs Tennessee last year. Joining him is senior Dallas Baker and junior Jemalle Cornelius. An interesting player to watch will be freshman Percy Harvin, the top WR recruit of 2006. The offensive line lost four starters from last season; Steve Rissler will anchor the line at center after starting three games at right guard a year ago.

The defensive line may be the deepest position on the Gator team. Jarvis Moss will be an all-star candidate at one end wreaking havoc on SEC QB's this season. The tackles also have a bevy ofexperience with two seniors returning. Whomever gets through the d-line will then have to face linebackers Earl Everett and Brandon Siler who are both All-SEC candidates. The Gators also boast depth here due to good recruiting over the past several years. The unexpected departure of Dee Webb in the secondary left a sizeable hole to fill at cornerback. Reggie Lewis and Avery Atkins seperated themselves in spring ball at the corner positions. Reggie Nelson and Kyle Jackson both had up and down seasons last year at safeties, but are the best options as of now for those positions.

Both kickers return for their seinor seasons. The return game will be by committee with Termain McCollum likely getting the first crack.
Sep2So MissW
Oct28Georgia (Jax)W
Nov11South CarolinaW
Nov18Western CarolinaW
Prediction: 10-2, 6-2

Miami (9-3, 6-2)
Offensive Starters Returning: 5
Defensive Starters Returning: 6
Last 5 Years Win Totals: 12-12-11-9-9

After the 40-3 loss to LSU in the Peach Bowl, Larry Coker cleaned house showing six assistants the door. A tough early season schedule will show right away how far along the Canes are in adjusting. Kyle Wright returns at QB and despite grumbling from the Cane faithful produced one of the best seasons statistically in the ACC last year. Charlie Jones will be the starter for the FSU game because of Tyrone Moss' suspension, but Moss will more than likely reassume that position vs FAMU. The Miami receiving corp has shown flashes of brilliance, but not enough consistency. The most consistent receiver, Ryan Moore, has been suspended indefinitely for violation of team rules. The offensive line lost some key talent from last year, but it is not as if they proved to be world beaters last year. Against FSU and LSU, Wright spent much of the game picking himself hit after hit. This group must give him more time in order to realize his potential.

Defensively, the Canes should shine this season with maybe the best defense in the country. Baraka Atkins is the headliner on the d-line and will push for All-ACC honors. The situation at LB is solid due to Jon Beason who is arguably Miami's best defender. Joining Beason will be Glenn Cook, Darryl Sharpton, and Tavares Gooden. The secondary will be one of the best in the nation led by safeties Brandon Merriweather and Kenny Phillips. Meriweather led the Canes with 115 tackles last season, a number that hopefully goes down this season though. The corner spots are up in the air, but Randy Phillips and Bruce Johnson have the inside track going into the opener.

Kicking was an unusually sore spot for Miami last season, but both kickers return hoping to perform better in their senior season. Whomever returns kicks and punts will have a tall order to live up to; Miami leads the nation with 57 returns for TD since 1999.
Sep4Florida StL
Sep9Florida A&MW
Oct7North CarolinaW
Oct14Fla IntlW
Oct28@Georgia TechW
Nov4Virginia TechW
Nov25Boston CollegeW
Prediction: 10-2, 7-1

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Palmetto State Preview - Clemson & South Carolina

Based on last season's regular season finale, it appears Bowden still has Spurrier's number. Clemson's Tommy Bowden comes into this season with high expectations no just for the ACC, but nationally. Last season, the Tigers lost four games by a combined 14 points. South Carolina showed some muster last season narrowily losing to Georgia and then beating new rival Florida at home, but a collapse in their bowl game left somewhat of a sour taste on what could have been.

Clemson (8-4, 4-4)
Offensive Starters Returning: 8
Defensive Starters Returning: 7
Last 5 Years Win Totals: 7-7-9-6-8

Tiger fans are looking for the program to take the next step. Clemson has been bowl eligible seven straight seasons, but this season would like to make a serious run at an ACC title something they have not held since FSU came into the league. Will Proctor will step in at QB this season replacing Charlie Whitehurst. Tiger fans can be a rest assured because Proctor is the one who brought Clemson back from 10 down in the 4th quarter against Texas A&M last season. Behind him them though is two untested and unknown commodities Cullen Harper and Tribble Reese. If Proctor is not able to master the passing game then he can just hand the ball off to the best set of tailbacks in the ACC - James Davis and Reggie Merriweather. Davis, 2005 ACC Freshman of the Year, helped the Tigers raise their rushing yards per game from 107.5 yards in 2004 to 153.0 in 2005. Along with Merriweather and true freshman C.J. Spiller, Clemson should have a no trouble on the ground this season. At wideout, Chansi Stuckey and Aaron Kelly are the headliners returning. Stuckey led the ACC in receptions last season with 64. Sophomore Rendrick Taylor will be used as J-Back (lining up as a FB, TE, or WR) because of his unusual combination of size and speed. No championship team is complete without an offensive line and Bowden has all five starters from a year ago and nine of the first 10 returning.

Defensively, Clemson's best player is end Gaines Adams. Adams had 9.5 sacks last season, more than any returning player. He is the only returning starter, but the Tigers brought in two outstanding freshman who may get some playing time this season in Jamie Cumbie and Ricky Sapp. At linebacker, Clemson returns Anthony Waters who is the leading returning tackler in the ACC (do you see a theme here?). The other two positions will be filled by Nick Watkins and Tramaine Billie. The secondary lost two of the defenses' best players last year and may be the weak link right now for the Tigers. Converted RB Duane Coleman will start at one corner while converted QB C.J. Gaddis starts at the other. The safeties will have have one new starter in Chris Clemons at free safety. Michael Hamlin, who started five games at corner last season, will be the starter at strong safety.

The Tigers special teams will be in good hands with both kickers returning. Stuckey will return punts with Coleman and Kelly returning kicks.
Sep2Fla AtlanticW
Sep9@Boston CollegeW
Sep23North CarolinaW
Sep30La TechW
Oct 7@Wake ForestW
Oct21Georgia TechL
Oct26@Virginia TechW
Nov11NC StateW
Nov25South CarolinaW
Prediction: 10-2, 6-2

South Carolina (7-5, 5-3)
Offensive Starters Returning: 6
Defensive Starters Returning: 4
Last 5 Years Win Totals: 9-5-5-6-7

Steve Spurrier enters his second season at the helm in Columbia and big things are expected in Columbia, but high expectations are an annual event come August from Gamecock fans. One of the reasons to be excited in Columbia is QB Blake Mitchell. Mitchell showed flashes last year of brilliance, but also threw 12 INT diminishing his pass effiency to sixth in the SEC. Spurrier expects better out of his QB's, but Mitchell's backup Cade Thompson is unlikely to see serious action barring an injury. Cory Boyd will be back at tailback following a one year suspension. That is good for the Gamecocks who finished next to last in the SEC in rushing. Sidney Rice is the clear cut star at South Carolina. The wideout was named national freshman of the year by after establishing school records in receiving yards and touchdowns. Syvelle Newton and Noah Whiteside will hope to provide Blake Mitchell some other options in catching the ball. The offensive line was woeful last season and will have three new starters this season. The leader will be center Chris White, Rimington Award watch list.

Defensively, South Carolina yielded 174 yards per game on the ground last season. Not to pile on but, four seniors are gone from last season. Spring practice players like Marque Hall and Stanley Doughty to push their names to the forefront, but the line will likely be a revolving door most of the season. The situation at linebacker is not much different, but the backups returning have some good experience. Leading the way is sophomore Marvin Sapp. The secondary was one of the best in the SEC last season, but Ko Simpson and Jonathan Joseph are gone. Fred Bennett returns and is a great cover guy, but a questionable tackler. Sophomore Carlos Thomas will man the other cover spot. At the safety positions, Chris Hampton and Brandon Isaac are the starters now, but are being pushed in the preseason for playing time.

The kicking situation is another question mark for Spurrier with two new starters. Thomas will likely return kicks while the punt return spot will be by committee early on.

Aug31@Miss StW
Sep23Fla AtlanticW
Nov18Middle TennesseeW

Prediction: 8-4, 5-3

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Tale of Two Tigers - Auburn & LSU

Auburn and LSU will play on September 16 with the winner gaining a big advantage in the West Division race. You would never guess with the national title hype surroudning these two teams that they only have 11 starters each returning from last season.

Auburn (9-3, 7-1)
Offensive Staters Returning: 5
Defensive Starters Returning: 6
Last 5 Years Win Totals: 7-9-8-13-9

Over the last two seasons, Auburn has won 16 of 17 SEC games with the only loss at LSU last season. Brandon Cox returns at QB and brings his 2,300+ yards and 15 touchdowns back to the Plains. Even with Cox back, Auburn will rely on its outstanding tailback Kenny Irons. Irons rushed for 1,293 yards including six consecutive 100 yard games. If Irons goes down, backups Tre Smith, Brad Lesters, and Carl Stewart will be serviceable. The Tigers will need to replace three key players who had 12 touchdowns between them last season. The most experienced player returning is Courtney Taylor who was hampered by injuries in 2005 after a promising 2004. On the offensive line, Auburn must replace two starters but the depth they have built through solid recruiting will limit this impact.

An area more of concern will be the defensive line replacing three key cogs. The good news however is that ends Marquies Gunn and Quentin Groves are back. Josh Thompson displayed the most ability for interior defenders in spring practice and will likely start at nose guard. A safety last year, but now a linebacker - Will Herring was moved to outside lineback to help sure up a deleted corps. Former backup Karibi Dede and redshirt freshman Tray Blackmon (after suspension) are likely to start at the other two positions. Herring's move left an opening in teh secondary hopefully filled by Tristan Davis and Lorenzo Ferguson at the safety positions. The corners will be manned by David Irons and either Jonathan Wilhite or Montavis Pitts.

Both kickers return (K-Jon Vaughn and P-Kody Bliss), so the Tigers should be solid again on special teams. Devin Aromashodu (24.2 ypr) will have to replaced on kickoffs.

Auburn has the schedule and talent retuning to go undefeated. However, 12 straight games will eventually catch up to Tommy Tuberville and derail their undefeated season.

Sep2Washington StW
Sep9@Miss StW
Sep28@South CarolinaW
Oct28@Ole MissW
Nov4Arkansas StW

Prediction: 11-1, 7-1

LSU (10-2, 7-1)
Offensive Staters Returning: 6
Defensive Starters Returning: 5
Last 5 Years Win Totals: 10-8-13-9-11

Last season was turbulent one for LSU and most the activity happened off the field. Les Miles did about as good as anyone could expect with all events LSU was thrust in the middle of and this season he hopes to maintain the momentum created by a 40-3 thrashing of Miami in the Peach Bowl. JaMarcus Russell has recovered from injury and will be the starter. If he is injured again, Tiger fans can rest easily knowing that Matt Flynn is a proven QB as well. Two former starters (Alley Broussard and Justin Vincent) will be returning in Baton Rouge, but both also have past knee injuries. Catching Russell's passes will be seniors Dwayne Bowe and Craig Davis along with junior Early Doucet. Three long time starters were lost to the NFL on the offensive line meaning backups from last year will have to step up to the challenge; left guard Will Arnold is the best of the bunch.

The NFL took three of LSU's d-lineman from a year ago leaving only Chase Pittman back. Glenn Dorsey, Tyson Jackson, and Ryan Willis positioned themselves in the spring for starting positions. At linebacker, Ali Highsmith returns, but the other two positions will have new faces. The secondary features one of the best safeties in the nation, LaRon Landry. Landry passed up the NFL Draft last season to return for his senior season. Two other starters SS Jessie Daniels and CB Chevis Jackson also return to a unit which ranked 11th in pass defense and 3rd in total defense. This defensive unit has a tall task repeating last year's stats, but the talent is there.

Chris Jackson will handle placekicking and punting duties this season again. However, Jaqeuz Green is lost from the return game.

LSU has the talent to compete for a national title but trips to Auburn, Florida, and Tennessee will be tough to come out unscathed from.

Sep2 La-Lafayette W
Sep9 Arizona W
Sep16 @Auburn L
Sep23 Tulane W
Sep30 Miss St W
Oct7 @Florida L
Oct14 Kentucky W
Oct21 Fresno St W
Nov4 @Tennessee W
Nov11 Alabama W
Nov18 Ole Miss W
Nov24 Arkansas W
Prediction: 10-2, 6-2

ACC Team Previews

Today, a brief preview of some of the teams in the ACC. I will take a more in depth look at Clemson, Georgia Tech, Florida St, and Miami in the coming days.
Virginia Tech (11-2, 7-1)
Offensive Starters Returning: 5
Defensive Starters Returning: 5
Last 5 Years Win Totals: 8-10-8-10-11

A season that looked as if it was headed towards a Rose Bowl bid had unraveled by the time the Hokies left Jacksonville(for the second time) mostly because of one player. Marcus Vick is no longer with the Hokies and that leaves Frank Beamer's staff, with four new faces, scrambling at QB. Virginia Tech should bring a solid defense to play, but must look for new faces to step up and carry on. The Coastal Division is not as strong as last season, but the Hokies lost too many players to be a favorite for the title.

Key Players:
QB Sean Glennon

QB Cory Holt
RB Brandon Ore
WR David Clowney
C Danny McGrath
DE Chris Ellis
LB Vince Hall
LB Xavier Adibi
SS Aaron Rouse

Sep9@North CarolinaW
Sep30Georgia TechW
Oct12@Boston CollegeL
Oct21So. MissW
Nov18@Wake ForestW

Prediction: 9-3, 5-3

Boston College (9-3, 5-3)
Offensive Starters Returning: 6
Defensive Starters Returning: 6
Last 5 Years Win Totals: 8-9-8-9-9

The Eagles have established themselves as a solid program over the last five years, but the winningest senior class in BC history is now departed and some familiar and new faces must step up. BC will rely on its ground game with two solid tailbacks and mammoth offensive line averaging over 300 pounds. The defense lost some key players from a unit which ranked fifth in rushing defense and 16th in total defense. I look for the Eagles to take a slight step back this season from their tie for first in the Atlantic Division last season.

Key Players:
QB Matt Ryan
RB Andre Callendar
RB LV Whitworth
WR Tony Gonzales
OG Josh Beekman
DT BJ Raji
LB Brian Toal

Aug31@Cent MichiganW
Sep23@NC StateL
Oct7Virginia TechW
Oct14@Florida StL
Nov4@Wake ForestL


Prediction: 7-5, 3-5

Maryland (5-6, 3-5)
Offensive Starters Returning: 7
Defensive Starters Returning: 7
Last 5 Years Win Totals: 10-11-10-5-5

Hard to believe the Terps are only two seasons away from three straight 10+ win seasons but they are. Ralph Friedgen has taken back the responsibilites of offensive coordinator in hopes of jumpstarting the stagnant Maryland offense the past few years. A major positive in College Park heading into the fall is the return of five offensive line starters. The Terps have a very easy non-conference schedule, but will be hard pressed to challenge for the Division title this season.

Key Players:
QB Sam Hollenbach
RB Lance Ball
RB Josh Allen
OT Jared Gaither
DT Conrad Balston
LB Wesley Jefferson

Sep9Middle TennW
Sep14@West VirginiaL
Sep23Fla IntlW
Oct7@Georgia TechW
Oct21NC StateW
Oct28Florida StL
Nov18@Boston CollegeL
Nov25Wake ForestW

Prediction: 6-6, 3-5

Virginia (7-5, 3-5)
Offensive Starters Returning: 6
Defensive Starters Returning: 6
Last 5 Years Win Totals: 5-9-8-8-7

The incredible high of a comeback win in the Music City Bowl was muted by offseason troubles in Charlottesville. Star LB Ahmad Brooks is now in the NFL after one too many run-ins with the "team policies" set forth by Al Groh (who also may be taking some heat). The Cavaliers have strung together some nice recruiting classes in Groh's tenure, but have been unable to break through in the ACC yet. Highly unlikely with a new QB that Virginia can make a leap upward this season.
Key Players:
QB:Christian Olsen

RB Jason Snelling
WR Deyon Williams
DE Chris Long
LB Clint Sintim
CB Marcus Hamilton

Sep16Western MichiganW
Sep21@Georgia TechL
Oct7@East CarolinaW
Oct19North CarolinaL
Oct28NC StateW
Nov4@Florida StL
Nov25@Virginia TechL

Prediction: 6-6, 3-5

Wake Forest (4-7, 3-5)
Offensive Starters Returning: 9
Defensive Starters Returning: 10
Last 5 Years Win Totals: 6-7-5-4-4

With nine starters back on offense, one would likely be very optimistic about the Deacs offense this season. Problem is that one of the starters lost was Player of the Year Chris Barclay. Still, Wake will rely on their ground game to move the ball this season offensively. Defensively, 10 returning starters hope to improve upon a woeful pass defense ranking 92nd in the nation. Jim Grobe's crew will be hard pressed to break out the cellar of the Atlantic even with 19 returning starters.
Key Players:

QB Ben Mauk
RB Micah Andrews
OT Steve Vallos
LB Jon Abatte
FS Josh Gattis

Sep23@Ole MissL
Oct14@NC StateL
Oct28@North CarolinaL
Nov4Boston CollegeW
Nov11@Florida StL
Nov18Virginia TechL

Prediction: 4-8, 2-6

North Carolina (5-6, 4-4)
Offensive Starters Returning: 5
Defensive Starters Returning: 7
Last 5 Years Win Totals: 8-3-2-6-5

The offseason in Chapel Hill produced some changes on the offensive staff of the Tar Heels with a new offensive coordinator installed (Frank Cignetti). Head Coach John Bunting hopes this season brings a bowl game at the end, but with another brutal schedule that task will be difficult. With a new QB and four of the top five receivers gone, UNC will most likely follow their ground attack to victories.
Key Players:

QB Joe Dailey
RB Ronnie McGill
WR Jesse Holley
OT Brian Chacos

LB Larry Edwards
CB Jacoby Watkins

Sep9Virginia TechL
Oct14South FloridaW
Oct28Wake ForestW
Nov4@Notre DameL
Nov11Georgia TechL
Nov18NC StateL

Prediction: 6-6, 3-5

NC State (7-5, 3-5)
Offensive Starters Returning: 5
Defensive Starters Returning: 6
Last 5 Years Win Totals:7-11-8-5-7

For some reason, Chuck Amato is on the hot seat in Raleigh. Maybe it was his Top 10 finish in 2002 or his 46 wins in his first five season (NC State Record). To say the Pack have talent at running back is an understatement. Toney Baker was the 2004 NC Prep Player of the Year and Andre Brown won it in 2003. This tandem will see a lot of eight man fronts, but it may not even matter. The defense lost three starters to the NFL and will not repeat its number eight ranking of a year ago. Bowling may be a popular sport again in Raleigh, but some key games against Maryland, Georgia Tech, and North Carolina will either produce a strike or gutter ball.
Key Players:
QB Marcus Stone

RB Toney Baker
RB Andre Brown
WR LaMart Barrett
C Leroy Harris
DE Willie Young
LB LeRue Rumph
SS Garland Heath

Sep2App StW
Sep16@So MissL
Sep23Boston CollegeW
Oct5Florida StL
Oct14Wake ForestW
Nov4Georgia TechL
Nov18@North CarolinaW
Nov25East CarolinaW

Prediction: 6-6, 3-5

Monday, August 21, 2006

SEC Team Previews

Tennessee (5-6,3-5)
Offensive Starters Returning: 7
Defensive Starters Returning: 6
Last 5 Years Win Totals: 11-8-10-10-5

For the first time in 13 years, the Vols found themselves to be very bored at Christmas time. The biggest return this off season may be that of former offensive coodinator David Cutcliffe to his old post in Knoxville. Tennessee will have more stability at QB this year and a reliable back in Arian Foster, but the loss of four o-linemen means defense may have to carry the Vols early.

Key Players:
QB Erik Ainge
RB Arian Fosters
WR Robert Meacham
OT Arron Sears
DT Justin Harrell
LB Marvin Mitchell
CB Inky Johnson


Sep9Air ForceW
Oct28@South CarolinaW

Prediction: 8-4,5-3

Alabama (10-2,6-2)
Offensive Starters Returning: 9
Defensive Starters Returning: 4
Last 5 Years Win Totals: 7-10-4-6-10

Gone is Brodie Croyle and so may be the hopes of competing for the SEC crown. Though the Crimson Tide have nine starters back on offense, they have very little experience at QB. Kenneth Darby returns also needing only 1,077 yards to pass Shaun Alexander on the all-time rushing list. The defense was gutted by the NFL and will need to replace all three linebackers. The Tide will play 12 straight weeks so injuries could play a big part down the stretch.

Key Players:
QB John Parker Wilson
RB Ken Darby
WR DJ Hall
WR Tyrone Prothro
C Antoine Caldwell
LB Juwan Simpson
CB Ramzee Robinson
K Jamie Christensen

Oct14Ole MissW
Nov4Miss StW

Prediction: 7-5,3-5

Mississippi St (3-8,1-7)
Offensive Starters Returning: 8
Defensive Starters Returning:9
Last 5 Years Win Totals: 3-3-2-3-3

Sylvester Croom's hiring was a monumental one for the SEC, but after three seasons at the helm with only 8 wins to show for it Croom may be feeling some heat. This would be the year to make a move with 17 starters coming back, including 9 from the defense. Still, with Arkansas and Ole Miss looking to be improved from last year, it will be a tough road for the Bulldogs.

Key Players:
QB - Michael Henig
QB - Ty Evans
RB - Brandon Thornton
RB - Derek Ambrose
WR - Will Prosser
OT - Brian Anderson
DT - Deljuan Robinson
LB - Quinton Culberson
CB - Jeramie Johnson
CB - David Heard
K - Keith Andrews

Aug31South CarolinaLoss
Oct7West VirginiaLoss
Oct14Jacksonville StWin
Nov25Ole MissLoss

Prediction: 3-9, 1-7

Ole Miss (3-8,1-7)
Offensive Starters Returning: 5
Defensive Starters Returning: 5
Last 5 Years Win Totals: 7-7-10-4-3

Last years three wins were disappointed to the Rebels who fired David Cutcliffe one year removed from a 10 win season and hired Ed Ogeron from USC. Ogeron brought in an impressive haul of recruits in the off season, including former Tennessee QB Brent Schaeffer. Rebel fans want to see their team back near the top of the West sooner rather than later though and that will be tough in the West with only 5 returning starters. Ole Miss will rely heavily on their defense again this year while Schaeffer gets accustomed to his new teammates.

Key Players:
QB Brent Schaeffer
RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis
WR Robert Hough
OL Michael Oher
DE Peria Jerry
LB Patrick Willis
LB Garry Pack
SS Jamarca Sanford
FS Charles Clark

Sep23Wake ForestWin
Nov4NW StateWin
Nov25Miss StWin

Prediction: 6-6,3-5

Arkansas (4-7,2-6)
Offensive Starters Returning: 10
Defensive Starters Returning: 9
Last 5 Years Win Totals: 7-9-9-5-4

The Razorbacks flirted with the idea of releasing Houston Nutt after last year, but they may be glad they did not with 19 starters returning to Fayetteville. Arkansas has a stable of running backs and will most likely lead the SEC in rushing. The passing game is another story, but heralded freshman Mitch Mustain may bring some needed help as early as this year. The defense was pretty solid last year and returns nine starters from a year ago. The Razorbacks open with USC who beat them 70-17 last year.

Key Players:
QB Casey Dick
QB Mitch Mustain
RB Darren McFadden
RB Felix Jones
WR Marcus Monk
OT Zac Tubbs
DE Jamaal Anderson
LB Desmond Sims
LB Sam Olajubutu
SS Randy Kelly

Sep9Utah StW
Oct14SE Missouri StW
Oct21Ole MissW
Nov4@South CarolinaL
Nov18@Miss StW
Prediction: 8-4,5-3

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Duke Football - Is Coach K Available?

Duke (1-10, 0-8)
Offensive Starters Returning: 3
Defensive Starters Returning:7
Last 5 Years Win Totals:0-2-4-2-1

An offense that ranked as one of the worst in D1 last year was not helped out in the off season as projected starting QB Zack Asack has been suspended for the year. The Blue Devils will have to rely on a quartet of running backs which all played solid, but not spectacular seasons last year. However, the offensive line will need to be reconstructed with just one returning starter and four converted defensive lineman.

The defensive line will welcome back three key letterman from last year and they will be needed to sure up Duke's porous run defense. The linebacking core essentially returns two starters in Michael Tauiliili (formerly Michael Brown) and Codey Lowe -Lowe started the first four games last years before getting injured. In the secondary, All-ACC member John Talley is the NCAA active leader in interceptions. Even with Talley, the defensive backs will be hard pressed to repeat last years statistics, ranking 36th in pass defense.

This success of this season comes down whether or not Duke can leap out of the ACC cellar with 2 conference wins. I think the Blue Devils will be hard pressed to do this with only 3 starters back from a woeful offense last season.

StatTotalNCAA Rank
Rushing offense127.181
Passing offense121.0113
Total offense248.1116
Scoring offense16.1110
Net punting35.434
Punt returns6.497
Kickoff returns21.840
Rushing defense207.3108
Passing defense204.036
Total defense411.389
Scoring defense37.1111
Turnover margin-.73100

Sep 2RichmondWin
Sep 9@Wake ForestLoss
Sep 16@Virginia TechLoss
Sep 30VirginiaLoss
Oct 7AlabamaLoss
Oct 14FSULoss
Oct 21MiamiLoss
Oct 28VanderbiltWin
Nov 4NavyLoss
Nov 11@Boston CollegeLoss
Nov 18@Georgia TechLoss
Nov 25North CarolinaLoss

Prediction: 2-10, 0-8

Monday, August 14, 2006

Kentucky - In Little We Trust?

Kentucky 3-8 (2-6)
Offensive Starters Returning: 7
Defensive Starters Returning: 7
Last 5 Years Win Totals: 2-7-4-2-3

To say that Rich Brooks tenure in Lexington has been a roller coaster would be an understatement. Every year it seems the “Rich Brooks Farewell Tour” travels around the SEC, but their seems to be an encore the following season.

On offense, the Wildcats strategy will be to hand the ball off as much as possible to their All-SEC caliber back, Rafael Little. The QB situation is still up in the air and will be a rotating one until mid season.

Offense – Players to Watch
QB – Andre Woodson
QB – Curtis Pulley
RB – Rafael Little
WR – Keenan Burton
OL – Aaron Miller
OL – Matt McCutchan

The defense could get some much needed help from a strong defensive recruiting class, but it still will not be enough to get Kentucky out of the bottom half of the SEC defenses. One bright side for the Wildcats is their return game led by Little. If he goes down though...yikes.

Defense – Players to Watch
DL – Myron Pryor
DL – Lamar Mills
LB – Wesley Woodyard
DB – Roger Williams

LB – Micah Johnson
DL – Corey Peters
DL – Josh Minton

StatTotalNCAA Rank
Rushing offense128.679
Passing offense168.8101
Total offense297.4107
Scoring offense21.788
Net punting32.977
Punt returns17.23
Kickoff returns26.44
Rushing defense196.3102
Passing defense243.384
Total defense439.5103
Scoring defense34.1107
Turnover margin-.82105

9/9Texas StWin
9/16Ole MissLoss
9/30Central MichiganWin
10/7South CarolinaLoss
10/28@Miss StLoss

Prediction: 4-8 (1-7)

Vanderbilt Preview - Back to Reality (of sorts)

This will be the first of many previews for each of the ACC and SEC Teams. I will probably tinker with the format, but predictions will definetly be a part of the previews.

Offensive Starters Returning: 7
Defensive Starters Returning: 6
Last 5 Years Win Totals: 2-2-2-2-5

Looking at the above win total, one could say the Commodores had a breakout season last year and they would be right. If a botched FG had not happened against Middle Tennessee St, Vandy would have been bowling. This year, Bobby Johnson will have his work cut out for him, as he must find a replacement for QB Jay Cutler.

Look for Chris Nickson to get the nod early in the season at the QB position. Richard Kovalcheck and Michael Adams will trail him closely throughout fall practice. Kovalcheck, a transfer from Arizona, was a prep phenom in San Diego and has the most potential to replace Cutler in the long run. In the backfield, Cassen Jackson-Garrison is back as is Jeff Jennings. The two ran for 539 and 448 yards respectively last season in a pass-oriented offense. At wideout, Earl Bennett is ready to do some more damage in the fall as a sophomore. The Freshmen All-SEC player snatched 79 balls in 2005, an SEC record. Bennett will be relied on heavily in the early going and will definitely see double teams almost all year. The Commodores bring back 3 offensive line starters from last season’s. This group has struggled the last two years though allowing 24 sacks in 2005 and 33 the season before.
Key to Success: Getting the ball in Earl Bennett’s hands as many times as last year.

Back from last year’s d-line which ranked last in the SEC for sacks and tackles for loss is three reserve tackles and one starting defensive end (Chris Booker). At the linebacker position, Jonathan Goff looks to continue the tradition of NFL quality players from Vanderbilt. Goff racked up 63 tackles last season and will take on a bigger role due to the departed Moses Osemwegie. Vandy lost its two best DB in the offseason from a unit ranking 11th in the SEC in pass defense (223.8). Reshard Landford, another All-SEC Freshmen will lead the group.
Key to Success: Getting push from the defensive line to help out a young secondary

Recruits to Watch
TE Jonathan Massey
DB Alan Strong
DB Brent Trice
QB Jared Funk
OL Adam Smotherman

Statistical Rankings:
Rushing offense115.194
Passing offense: 280.519
Total offense: 395.646
Scoring offense: 27.253
Net punting: 30.2110
Punt returns: 6.398
Kickoff returns: 20.365
Rushing defense: 169.982
Passing defense: 223.869
Total defense: 393.772
Scoring defense:29.282
Turnover margin:-.1870

9/23Tennessee StWin
10/7@Ole MissLoss
10/21South CarolinaLoss

Prediction: 2-10, 0-8

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Best Non-Conference Games

Last week, I previewed what I thought were the best conference games of the year. Here is what I think are the best non-conference games in no particular order.

Notre Dame @ Georgia Tech September 2
The Irish will come into Atlanta highly ranked and favored by at least a touchdown. Georgia Tech has made a habit of beating teams when they should not (and losing to teams they should beat) in Chan Gailey’s tenure. The key to the game will be how much of a pass rush Tech can get on Brady Quinn.

South Carolina @ Clemson November 25
Clemson has beaten South Carolina 7 out of the last 8 years including 4 in a row. Spurrier learned last year how a win over a team like Florida can be greatly reduced if you do not beat your in-state rival.

Florida @ Florida St November 25
Last year, the Seminoles took a beating in Gainesville that has not been seen since the 1980’s between these two perennial powers. Florida has not had much success in Gainesville except for a win 2 years ago.

Georgia Tech @ Georgia November 25
They call this game “Clean Old Fashioned Hate” which may be the most accurate rivalry nickname in college football. Many thought last year would be Tech’s year as they were just coming off a win at Miami. If Georgia’s quarterback situation is still unsettled, the Chan Gailey may get that giant Bulldog off his back.

Miami @ Louisville September 16
Two years ago, Louisville gave Miami all they could handle. Florida St fell victim to the Cardinals in Papa John Stadium a few years back.

USC @ Arkansas September 2
Last year, USC looked as if it was playing a high school when they torched the Razorbacks in LA. Arkansas should be better this year and has not forgotten about that game.

Cal @ Tennessee September 2
One of the best games in September, but is being overshadowed by others. The Vols will find out in Week 1 if they are capable of playing with the big boys once again. Cal is many people’s favorite to win the Pac-10.